Coronavirus Isn't Airborne, Says WHO

09 June, 2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published and article stressing that coronavirus can’t be transmitted through the air and that we should use masks properly. We will explain this further in this article.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and independent scientists regularly publish findings linked to the coronavirus. A recent statement from WHO states the coronavirus isn’t airborne. This needs to be considered, especially when thinking about managing resources.

We can use this information along with what we already know about the virus and act accordingly. Countries can use these discoveries to improve the preventative measures they already have in place.

We’ve already seen that social distancing and quarantines reduce the infection rate, as well as wearing face masks and washing hands.

The WHO wants to remind us about the non-airborne transmission of coronavirus. This information already exists and they have already published reports on it.

The fact that coronavirus can’t transmit through the air means that we need to prevent its actual transmission. This is why we have specific guides for disinfecting surfaces and wearing masks.

What the WHO says about airborne transmission

The WHO published a brief report on March 29, updating a previous report from the 27th. It’s only two pages long, and discusses evidence on coronavirus transmission.

The report states that coronavirus can’t transmit through the air. It can only transmit through respiratory droplets. Infected people release these droplets which can then travel a certain distance.

The WHO makes it clear that there’s a difference between airborne transmission and droplet transmission. Viruses resistant to the environment can infect from the air itself.

This isn’t the case with SARS-CoV-2. This virus needs respiratory droplets to move, and loses a lot of resistance when separated from droplets.

A woman coughing.
When an infected person coughs, they transmit coronavirus.

In China, they couldn’t confirm simple air transmission of the virus, according to the report.

Coronavirus can’t be transmitted through the air, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes airborne. We need to understand that we can contract the virus only when in close range of an infected person.

Continue reading: How coronavirus infects cells in the lungs

How long does coronavirus stay in the air?

As well as airborne transmission, the WHO has also clarified doubts about how long SARS-CoV-2 remains on surfaces. Respiratory droplets will land on objects, and they can spread from there.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study cataloging durations of coronavirus. They used machines to simulate different scenarios. The machines created infected droplets so they can study their dispersion.

The WHO wants to make clear that these results can’t be applied to real life. These machines aren’t as powerful as human beings, therefore, the two can’t be compared.

Based on available evidence, scientists can’t prove that SARS-CoV-2 remains in respiratory droplets longer than 3 hours, nor that it can travel beyond 6.5 feet. This is why authorities are advising us to practice social distancing.

Discover more: Can food be contaminated by coronavirus?

If coronavirus isn’t airborne, why do we need masks?

Now we know how we transmit coronavirus, the WHO lists the following reasons for why masks should be used:

  • Those already infected with COVID-19.
  • Those who have been in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus
  • If you’ve traveled to areas with high transmission rates.
  • If you’re a health care professional or when traveling in public places.

Specialists recommend masks called FFP2. Surgical masks aren’t effective for respiratory droplets, and may even be counterproductive.

A man wearing a mask
FFP2 masks are the most effective, not surgical ones.

Managing resources during the pandemic

We now know coronavirus can’t be transmitted through the air. Therefore, not everyone should be wearing masks. We must use resources wisely. Masks are scarce, and are a priority for health care professionals.

We are responsible for controlling coronavirus. So it’s up to us to manage existing resources. We need to reserve masks for specific situations, therefore protecting the most vulnerable.

 

  • Ong, Sean Wei Xiang, et al. “Air, surface environmental, and personal protective equipment contamination by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from a symptomatic patient.” Jama (2020).
  • van Doremalen, Neeltje, et al. “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1.” New England Journal of Medicine (2020).
  • Lai, Shengjie, et al. “Preliminary risk analysis of 2019 novel coronavirus spread within and beyond China.” 2020-02-03]. https://www. worldpop. org/events/china (2020).